Heavy Burdens – Sermon on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

When Jesus says his yoke is easy, the yoke he’s talking about is a very burdensome object, designed for a large, heavy beast. But it becomes easy when Jesus is leading the way.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

July 9 – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

“Heavy Burdens”.  Text is from  Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

(This portion of the sermon was unscripted)

Jesus starts off this conversation about how the children of Israel rejected both John and then Jesus in a seemingly contradictory terms; saying that John had a demon for being an a person who intentionally starved himself and that Jesus was a drunkard and glutton for eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus is uplifting the hypocritical nature of his critics, primarily at this time the Pharasees, in that it doesn’t matter how the person is living, as long as they say things contradictory to the way these followers of the old way practiced their faith, then they were subject to whatever creative invective was being hurled at them. All just names and words: Demon-possessed, drunkard and glutton. In a logical debate, these are called ad hominems, where one attacks the messenger rather than the message.

Evil OxenAnd I know it becomes easy to put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes, because we’ve all probably experienced at some time that someone who disagreed with us decided to look for some character trait we had, something someone might perceive as a flaw, and use it to try to derail the conversation. But it might be more difficult to see ourselves in the role of those that Jesus was criticizing. People whose world was being turned upside down, people already suffering under a tyrannical empire and now someone has come and is challenging their old ways of thinking about God?

But think about this point in Jesus ministry, we have to remember that the context of what Jesus is saying, which is more evident in Matthew’s gospel than any of the others, are such that they he says them after he has done some pretty unsettling and remarkable feats.

Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus has healed a leper.  But in doing so he has put his hands on the unclean person before he is healed.  Jesus, a holy man, has made himself ritually unclean while at the same time healing him.  He then went and brought the servant of a centurion back from the brink of death. An incredible miracle, but done on behalf of not only a gentile but a member of the harsh Roman ruling class.

And then Jesus eats in the company of sinners, further angering those who would wish for a messiah of their own choosing, one who is Jewish through and through, who follows Jewish custom and law to the “T”. This Jesus of Nazareth, who is showing so much potential, is nevertheless not falling in line with their ideals. He is turning the world upside down.

So when the very people Jesus has come to save become embroiled in the politics of the day, making the decision to follow the prevailing thought rather than the obvious messiah there before them.

And yet Jesus loves all of those people anyway. That those things that should be revealed were hidden from the wise.  Even as he criticizes us, he invites us to him. Even as we struggle, those of us who have rejected the help that we may be given, he tells us flat out,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

And Jesus, who suffered more than anyone could suffer, who had the greatest burden of all, tells us in no uncertain terms, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” What is a yoke? He is not talking about the yellow part of an egg here. What Jesus means is the harness that goes around the neck of oxen in order to pull a plow. How can a yoke even be easy?

But this passage here, these wonderful verses at the end of Matthew, have been considered by some theologians and scholars to be the heart of the gospel message. When Jesus says to take up our cross and follow him, earlier in Matthew, it seems like it is a great struggle but in truth, given the great struggles life has to throw at us, taking up one’s cross is, in fact, the easy decision.

Being a friend to people behind bars is not the easiest thing in the world. I relish my freedom, my sisters and brothers, as I’m sure do you. But also, being a person in recovery, I can tell you that when you are in the grip of dependency on chemicals, you can find yourself justifying the most ridiculous behaviors, and many of the decisions that some people make are so absurd and contrary to what society would expect from us. I can also assure you that when I put a chemical in my body, the conscious contact I feel with God becomes dulled and my ability to rely on God for good decision making becomes diminished if not completely quashed altogether.

But you don’t have to have been addicted to any substance to know that as human beings acting in a willful nature, we can do some pretty messed up things. When the consequences involve some sort of crime, we wind up having our choices taken away from us by the government. And while I have never personally experienced being locked up, I know enough people who have, and believe me, life is absolutely not easy for those people. It’s one of the main reason many people turn to God in those places, to try to seek solace and comfort where so little is to be found.

When I am fighting God and not doing what God wants me to do, I have a hard time of it. When life is causing storms and there seems to be no way out, when stress and difficulties befall me and I don’t understand what to do or how to take the next step, I do not know if I could even continue if I didn’t have God in my life.

Take my yoke upon  you and learn from me, Jesus says. And like the ox, Jesus is pulling us, guiding us where we need to go. We are the plow that Jesus pulls, we are the burden that Jesus carries. When Jesus says my yoke is easy, he means that it become easy when we yoke ourselves to him. When Jesus says my burden is light, it is us, our burden that we give him that makes it that much more light for us.

Life, my sisters and brothers is about suffering. Some of us suffer a great deal more than others. But none of us is ever alone in our suffering. Part of being the body of Christ, part of being of service to each other is being able to give up our burdens to each other.

Because this is the easier way, my sisters and brothers. And knowing the good news that God gave a son to teach us and die in our behalf, taking all of the ills of the world, our sins upon him amidst his suffering so that we may live anew, and rising again that we may live under his kind and loving r

Words – Homily on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Words hurt when people hurl them at you, even when they hurt. But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
Wednesday’s homily was delivered without notes, so you may listen to the sermon rather than read it.  

Homily delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

July 5, 2017 – Fifth Wednesday after Pentecost

“Words”.  Text is from  Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

Sermon audio follows:


Radically hospitable – Sermon on Matthew 10:40-42

It’s easy to understand we’re called to do radical hospitality. As Christians, though, it can be much harder to accept radical hospitality ourselves.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

July 2 – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

“Radically hospitable”.  Text is from  Matthew 10:40-42

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

Every Sunday morning we read our very familiar welcome statement which leads us into worship with a sense of who it is we want to be as a community and how we want to live. And every Sunday morning with that declaration we are opening ourselves to becoming vulnerable to whomever might come in whatever condition or state of life they may be. The statement itself is often known as radical welcome, and yet having a statement alone does not define exactly how welcoming a congregation is.

Homeless people camping by Foto blog in ParisWe can hang a banner over the front door to the street that says “All Are Welcome In our Church” but if we don’t make visitors feel that indeed, we wish to have them here beside us and being a part of our family, they probably won’t want to come back. That means people of all varieties and backgrounds, creeds and colors, gender identity. It means it’s a job for the pastor and the regulars who sit in the pews as well. It means coming to Sunday worship is more than just sitting here and connecting with God on our own, it also means connecting with the outsiders and making our home, their home.

Because I think many of us have been to a new church a first time or visited one when we went to another area. And I know what it feels like to walk into a sanctuary before service and be completely ignored by the congregation members in a place that proclaims from the rafters that everyone is welcome. Radical hospitality demands a definitive action on the part of the hosts. Because signs in and of themselves only make statements and direct people, they don’t make truths.

And so make an effort to be the people we are meant to be, and we understand what it means to be wonderful hosts of others. What it means to bring people into our lives and be a part of our family, welcoming them into our homes: friends and strangers alike, welcoming them into our lives and giving them comfort and rest.

But how much does that translate into being the guests of good hosts? How are we to accept radical hospitality, particularly when it means that we have to be vulnerable to the people who are providing it?

So we are continuing from last week Jesus’s instructions to the twelve disciples as he is sending them out to proclaim the good news and to do deeds in his name, he has just warned them of the persecutions that they will face. And now he’s promising to give reward to any person who will help the disciples along the way and who will offer support to their ministry.

And he is couching it in some language the disciples would have been intimately familiar with. Welcoming a prophet and receiving a prophet’s reward? Well, in our reading we have Jeremiah and Hananiah with two competing prophecies for the people of Judea: and Jeremiah being openly hopeful that Hananiah’s prophecy of peace for the people to come true, but also questioning, because he himself had the word spoken in different ways to him and had advised that the kingdom submit to the vastly stronger King of Babylon lest war and hardship take them away. What was the prophet’s reward? For the people of Israel, having heeded the prophecy of the true prophet of God, Jeremiah, it meant safety and security.

And what of the reward of the righteous? We have evidence over and over again that Jesus means this to be the kingdom of God. In our second reading from Roman Paul talks about our having been slaves to sin while living under the law, and indeed, the rewards of that life is death. But by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we are freed from death and become slaves to righteousness. And the reward of this new state of being is that we become holy people, sanctification, with the end result being God’s kingdom and eternal life. The reward of the righteous is, in fact an abundance of life overflowing and sharing in the beloved kingdom of God.

The little ones Jesus speaks of are only children in the metaphorical sense. As he speaks of his disciples going out he speaks of them in the terms that they are his children in the world. And in the image of their being offered a drink of water to quell their thirst we are reminded of the welcome Jesus received by the woman at the well in Samaria, and living water that baptizes all the people of God and embodies the holy spirit present in the disciples as they go out and share the good news of God, the love of one another.

The lives of the early Christians were fraught with misadventure and ill. In the Acts of the Apostles we read about imprisonment and death, we read about mobs coming after Paul because of what he stood for. The Roman Catholics have documented innumerable martyrdoms of early Christians in gory detail. The gospel spread in those early years exponentially, but not without cost to those that the Holy Spirit sent out.

But within the book of Acts is also those stories of the people who welcomed the early disciples of Christ in their homes, who did the bidding of God and helped the early believers as they acted out the good that the Holy Spirit sent them out to do. Names of people like Simon the Tanner, Cornelius, Lydia, Ananias (there is a good one), Prisca and Aquila, Sergius Paulus. People who helped carry the gospel by helping the people who were carrying it. People who opened their homes, provided resources, who gave of their time and energy in order that those who carried the message would be able to get it through.

God makes a way for the good news to travel. Even as we practice a hospitality that is more than simply welcoming, it actively invitational, we must also be prepared to envision where we are made welcome to do the work of God in the world, to see those means that we are able to share the good news in the world.

Where do you feel welcome? Where do you feel at home? Where are there people opening their hearts to you and allowing you a place to be vulnerable and speak the good news of Christ? The heart of the gospel is that the kingdom of God is close and that God loves the whole world, that we are called to love one another as Christ loves us and that we offer welcome to our neighbors even as we accept their welcome in the name of Christ.

This, my sisters and brothers, is living out God’s imminent kingdom in the world that we may prepare for God’s heavenly kingdom to come. Because let me tell you, if you think earthly radical hospitality and welcome is hard to come by, we have an incredibly open and hospitable host awaiting us in God’s great hereafter. And we can but model it in our homes and in our communities, as Jesus taught us to do and with the help of God’s Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us strength, that God’s good news be declared all throughout this world of God’s beloved people.